Artwork by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
I experienced homophobia within my first two weeks at UCLA — a surprise considering Chancellor Gene Block deemed UCLA no place for discrimination in his new undergraduate student welcome speech.
I was first belittled for the way I speak — the slang I use, the relative pitch of my voice, and my energetic inflections — by two guys who were talking to one of my roommates. As I joined the conversation, they picked up on my stereotypically feminine voice. They mimicked me, repeating what I said in high-pitched voices while laughing at each other. When my roommate called them out, they got defensive and denied any bigoted intentions.
Later that week, I saw one of the guys in the hallway outside of the floor’s lounge. As I passed by, he asked me how I was doing in a way that I felt was overly cordial considering our previous encounter. I ignored him, and as I turned the corner to my dorm, he said, “Yeah, fuck you!” while someone that was standing with him followed me around the corner and watched me enter my room.
After, I sat at my desk, shocked.
I saw him again while passing through the lounge, in the stairwell, at the other end of the hallway, in the bathroom. I felt unsafe in my home space.
As a masculine-presenting, male-passing person, I experience most aspects of male privilege in my day-to-day life. At the same time, I cannot exist in certain spaces without parts of me — my build, mannerisms, interests, voice, and race (another, still relevant, conversation) — becoming identifiers by which I am deemed feminine. Even despite my otherwise manly appearance, I am not perfectly masculine.
I became increasingly aware of this contradiction throughout high school.
In my dance program, a peer attributed my success as a male dancer to my comparatively more feminine style. At the same time, dance teachers told me that I wasn’t masculine enough to be a good leader. I did ballroom dance, where partnerships are paired into leaders, who are traditionally men, and followers, who are traditionally women. The stories told through ballroom dance reinforce the masculine-dominant versus feminine-submissive scripts of the cisheteropatriarchy. It felt odd that the work I put into developing my technique and style was attributed to my apparent femininity while it was also my femininity that made me less valid in the eyes of my teachers.
Among my male peers, I was the punchline of gay sex jokes and deemed “the gay” of the group. I still found myself obsessed with their interests in the hopes of bringing myself closer to masculinity and male validation. I learned to align myself with masculinity, rejecting my true nature. I thought being more like them would make them stop seeing me as other. When I first came out, though, they told me that they never would’ve guessed based on the way I dress and carry myself. The thing that made it obvious was the fact that I had the “gay voice.”
I was aware of the fact that the conflation of aspects of femininity with gayness was a stereotype. Not all gay men are feminine, and not all feminine men are gay. I understood that what I did experience as a result of my femininity was called homophobia. But why? I didn’t necessarily feel targeted for being gay, and acknowledging the stereotypes didn’t do much to explain my treatment as a result of my femininity. Why, exactly, did my femininity other me and out my gayness? Where did this conflation come from?
Our bodies, clothing, interests, movement — all of the external, perceivable pieces of who we are and how we express ourselves — are simplified and boxed into arbitrary definitions of man and masculine and woman and feminine by the cisheteropatriarchy. The cisheteropatriarchy is a socially constructed hierarchy that places cisgender, heterosexual men and masculinity at the top while subjugating non-cisgender, non-heterosexual, non-men through ideological, interpersonal, institutional, and internalized gendered oppression. How well we fit into the cisheteropatriarchy’s definitions of binary gender and our proximity to masculinity determine our access to gender-based privilege and safety from gendered oppression. The apparent contradiction between “man” and “feminine,” then, is what subjects feminine men to a specific form of gendered oppression under the cisheteropatriarchy.
To be a feminine man is to be less of a man, and the language the cisheteropatriarchy has adopted to describe such men involves the conflation of such otherness with queerness. A feminine man becomes gay against his will.
As I’ve continued to gain the language to describe my experiences and understand the nuances of gendered oppression, I’ve let go of the cisheteropatriarchy’s restrictive definitions of gender. Letting our identity and expression be defined and restrained by oppressive power structures allows those power structures to remain in place. Liberation requires a radical shift in how we view ourselves and others, where we must let go of the ideas of power, hierarchy, and otherness. This isn’t to say that people who identify and express their gender within the cisheteropatriarchy’s definitions of masculine or feminine shouldn’t be allowed to do so. The harm that arises from the cisheteropatriarchy occurs when we shame ourselves or others in a way that asserts the validity of a person based on their proximity to masculinity. Instead, we shouldn’t judge anyone, binary-conforming or not. We can reclaim what it means to exist as expressive beings for ourselves while respecting that power in others.
This perspective has allowed me to connect with myself and others more wholly. Letting go of internalized homophobia and misogyny allows me to exist for myself, as opposed to existing for an unachievable, oppressive masculine ideal. Instead of judging others based on gendered identifiers out of their control, I can connect with people for who they are and how they want to be understood.
Now, “feminine man” feels both inappropriate and obsolete. I am more than what it means to be “feminine” or “man.” And while my voice might always be flagged as “feminine,” I remain hopeful for a future where our innate differences are celebrated and honored as beautiful, whole parts of ourselves and others.
Author: Jericho Tran-Faypon (They/Them)
Artist: Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
Copy Editors: JQ Shearin (She/Her), Bella (She/They)